"Bones! Buckle up!"
Note: In the following review both John and Jason provide their opinion of the film, with John also writing up the Video, Audio, Extras, and Parting Thoughts.
The Film According to John:
Just "Star Trek."
Not "Star Trek: The Beginning" or "Star Trek 1" or "Star Trek 800." This movie assumes that nothing has gone before: no television shows, no movies, no comic books, no video games, no action figures.
It was a bold move on the part of director J.J. Abrams to go where no "Star Trek" episode had ever gone before. It was a fresh approach, equaling the successes of Richard Donner in "Superman: The Movie" and Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan in "Batman" and "Batman Begins" when those franchises seemed on the verge of extinction.
So let me say it up-front: "Star Trek" is one of the three or four most-entertaining films I saw in 2009.
Of course, taking "Star Trek" back to its start risked incurring the wrath of die-hard Trekkies and Trekkers, since it meant replacing the beloved original cast with younger actors. Many fans could not fathom anyone other than William Shatner as James T. Kirk or Leonard Nimoy as Mr. Spock or DeForrest Kelley as Dr. McCoy or James Doohan as Scotty, and so forth. New actors, no matter how good they might be, would surely be a sacrilege.
Well, they aren't a sacrilege. They work just fine. Not only do Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto make a fine young James T. Kirk and Mr. Spock, but Karl Urban and Simon Pegg make an admirable Leonard McCoy and Montgomery Scott. Indeed, Bones and Scotty may have captured the essence of their characters better than anyone else in the cast, even if Pegg's character enters late and hasn't a lot to do.
Don't expect the new youngsters to be imitating their predecessors, though. I mean, don't figure on Pine making any patented Shatner staccato utterances. With the exception of Quinto's ears, some of Urban's mannerisms, and Pegg's Scottish accent, these new actors are their own persons. Speaking of which, Zoe Saldana as Uhura creates an even more dominant presence in the film than Nichelle Nichols did in the original, and John Cho as Lt. Sulu and Anton Yelchin as a seventeen-year-old Chekov do superb jobs as well. By the way, Ben Cross and Winona Ryder play Spock's parents, and weren't they just youngsters in "Chariots of Fire" and "Beetlejuice"?
Bruce Greenwood is more than acceptable as Captain Pike (you remember the character from the pilot episode of "Star Trek" back in the mid Sixties), but Eric Bana as the crazed, obsessed villain Nero makes less of an impression. Maybe it's because Nero doesn't look much different or behave much differently than all the other Romulans aboard his ship. When you can't tell one villainous character from another, it rather diminishes their evilness.
Yeah, there's a plot, too, but it's almost completely overshadowed by the introduction of the new characters. The fact is, going into this Blu-ray version of the movie, I couldn't remember much about the movie's story from seeing it in a theater some months earlier. Odd, no? It was a favorite film, but I couldn't remember what it was about. I'd say that's a tribute to the actors and their characterizations, which dominate the film.
No, the plot, which plays with revenge motives and time warps and alternate realities, is largely forgettable, secondary to the character studies. It's far more fun to watch a preteen Kirk almost driving himself over a cliff in a stolen 'vette, or his getting the crap beat out of him in a barroom brawl. It's more fun to see Bones as a recently divorced fellow with nowhere to go but space, which he hates. It's more fun to see Spock rebelling against his Vulcan heritage by enrolling in Starfleet Academy. It's more fun to see how Kirk and Bones hit it off almost immediately, while Kirk and Spock take an immediate dislike for one another. It's more fun to watch an unexpected relationship unfold between Spock and a crew member. And it's more fun to see Leonard Nimoy again.
What more, it's immensely fun to watch the spectacular, often stunning CGI visuals in this new "Star Trek," surely the most elaborate special effects ever created for any "Star Trek" episode (or any movie, period). It's also why Blu-ray high definition is a must for getting the most pleasure out of the film. I loved every action-filled and non-action-filled moment of it.
John's film rating: 8/10
The Film According to Jason:
While every effort has been made to avoid spoilers in the following review, certain plot points are discussed. Proceed at your own risk.
When it was announced the man behind "Mission Impossible III" and "Alias" would remake "Star Trek," fanboys howled. How can the legendary characters of James Kirk and Mr. Spock be played by anyone aside from William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy? Would canon and continuity be respected? In short, can the simply titled "Star Trek" be anything but a bastardization of the classic concept?
The short answer is yes. Yes in every way, shape and form. Gone is 40+ years of mind-boggling continuity (though shout-outs to nearly everything that came before are present). Gone is the technobabble which plagued the latter series. Gone are minor space battles and sets cobbled together from whatever is on the studio lot. Gone is the notion, most importantly, that the franchise is just for geeks. There's an excitement in the film from the very first frame with the way the camera moves and characters react, shouting as loud as it can that this is not your father's "Trek," as the television ad states.
This is a new universe to play in which is completely respectful of what has come before without being slavishly devoted to it. Beloved characters are seen in a different way, thanks to the script. They're not changed just for the sake of change; they've been reinvented to show more layers, more texture and more depth. The Enterprise hasn't been redesigned to sell toys. It's a functional vessel from top to bottom in a world unencumbered by the "rules" on how a particular scene should be shot or the limits of a physical model over CGI battles.
Romulan captain Nero (Eric Bana) is hell-bent on getting revenge on Ambassador Spock (Leonard Nimoy), the person he blames for the loss of Romulus and his family. To that end, his futuristic mining vessel is outfitted with weapons and a substance called red matter…a destroyer of worlds. Moments before a preeminent world is destroyed and his sights are set on another, the newly commissioned U. S. S. Enterprise under the command of Captain Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood) is dispatched to the scene. His crew compliment? A half-Vulcan, half-human commander named Spock (Zachary Quinto). Helm and navigation officers Hikaru Sulu and Pavel Chekov (John Cho, Anton Yelchin). Newly minted doctor Leonard McCoy (Karl Urban). Communications expert Nyota Uhura (Zoe Saldana). And a brash cadet stowaway who butts heads with everyone by the name of James Tiberius Kirk (Chris Pine).
As imagined by J. J. Abrams and writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, "Star Trek" is an epic film set in a universe reminiscent of everything that came before while, at the same time, very much different from it. As an example, Nero's Romulan vessel, the Narada, bears no similarity to any ship from that race, yet interior graphics and weapons retain a signature green hue. Starfleet ships utilize the standard main hull and nacelle structure, but the insides are more elaborate with towering pipes and monolithic engine rooms…in other words, a real world sensibility. The classic Starfleet arrowhead is modified; phaser beams are no longer reddish strings jutting out from the hull of the ship in favor of blasts of energy.
Simultaneously, this movie is both ambitious in scope while being concerned with the intimate details of the relationships at play. It's a structure no other "Trek" movie has successfully mastered; minor planets are usually at stake. Either because of budget limitations or the lack of story breadth, other big screen adventures weren't willing or able to do what this film does: pit the seemingly perfect crew against one another, forcing them to take sides in the context of the larger, universe-in-peril story. Because of a construct of that story, Abrams doesn't need to worry about protecting the sacred cows. Anything can, and does, happen. In fact, one event in particular is the catalyst for much of the drama between Kirk and Spock.
I should get my minor nitpicks out of the way first. Action sequences, especially the first one, are cut entirely too fast, full of whip pans and extreme close-ups making it nearly impossible to understand what's happening on the first viewing. Part of the problem is the look of the U. S. S. Kelvin; it's so fundamentally different from anything we've seen before, we have to get our bearings before the shooting starts. Abrams doesn't allow that establishing moment.
The direction is both a strength and a curse for "Star Trek." When the camera does an oddly canted move toward the Vulcan council a la the old "Batman" television show, a comic book-inspired shot is created while being disconcerting in a fresh, unique way. But when the same camera sits uncomfortably close to the actors in the first quarter of the film, we feel we're invading personal space. It's a different approach to the series, to be sure, and one that is reminiscent of "Battlestar Galactica."
Then there's the character of Scotty, played by Simon Pegg. Introduced halfway through the movie, he doesn't have much to do aside from a few cut away scenes. What's the point, exactly, of casting Pegg if there's nothing for him to do? (The same can't be said of the rest of the main cast: they all have a moment to shine, especially Sulu, who gets more meaningful screen time in this movie than he did in most of the character's previous outings.)
The major issue with the story is the seemingly overnight decision to have Kirk enlist in Starfleet after rebuffing Pike's overture. We can pretty much guess what goes through his mind; would a scene or two with his mother have been too much to ask? After all, Kirk is so resistant to the idea, going so far as to insult the captain in a bar, there needs to be some connective tissue to get the audience from A to B to make the change of heart organic.
There is a feeling that, if these characters were put next to their counterparts, we'd be able to see a series of events that made them into those officers. Pine's Kirk is a more immature version of Shatner's, as is expected. He thinks and then acts in some cases, jumping into the middle of a fight in others. Even before he joins Starfleet, we can see an underlying battle inside him about living up to his father's reputation. Shatner's Kirk is a ladies man, a shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later type of commander. This Kirk is identical in every way; indeed, he tries to bed Uhura early on.
It's Quinto's Spock I have the most problem with for a reason I can't quite put my finger on. Instead of being the compelling character he should be, there's an off-putting smugness, a superiority complex ingrained in the writing. He knows he's better and isn't afraid to show it. Even as he struggles with the emotional part of his being, it's hard to reconcile these separate personalities. Near the end of the film, he shares a very public, romantic moment with another character which seems to exist only to drive the nails into Kirk and provide fodder for a snickering audience.
(Speaking of snickering, this may be the most overtly comical flick in the series since "Star Trek IV." I don't count "Insurrection" since that humor was juvenile and insulting.)
But the real stand-outs are Saldana and Urban. Despite the short skirt and her radiant looks, Saldana's Uhura projects intelligence, compassion, ferocity and confidence, all traits backed up by her words and actions on the Enterprise. While Nichelle Nichols' iteration of the character was relegated to the background, Saldana is clearly in the forefront of the story, in the middle of everything that happens. Urban has perhaps the hardest role of the main characters. He has to follow the instantly loveable DeForest Kelley and create a curmudgeon capable of verbally sparring with Spock without being to abrasive. His connection with Kirk runs the deepest and the longest. Yelchin and Pegg do their jobs professionally, but one would hope they get more screen time next time around. (Props, though, to Yelchin's comedic timing.) Of course, the film is also populated by a world of older, experienced actors. The already mentioned Greenwood and Bana, Jennifer Morrison, Winona Ryder, Ben Cross, Tyler Perry, even Nimoy…they're all there in the service of the new crew.
"Trek" flicks have always had the same problem with their villains: they all get compared to Ricardo Montalban's Khan from "The Wrath of Khan." Nero feels like a side plot in the end, even though everything in the film occurs because of him. As such, he doesn't get much to do in the grand scheme of things…and certainly not enough to justify a name like Eric Bana in the role. One mealy mouthed piece of exposition, a fight, some snarling at various view-screens and two-bit players is what the part amounts to. Even Ahdar Ru'afo from "Insurrection" got more to do. (Although quantity doesn't always equal quality.)
In the long run, the question should be if the plot makes sense as it connects to the established universe? Yes, time travel is involved, though it is a very minor portion of the overall plot. Time travel doesn't allow our heroes to engage and enemy or solve the problem; rather, it is the reason there is a problem in the first place. What does this mean as the credits roll? To me, it means Abrams, Orci and Kurtzman have the entire universe to play with for a sequel, if they so choose, completely free of self-sealing stem bolts, Breen, Kazon or saucer separation. (In other words, free of 43 years of continuity.) Kirk could meet the Borg in movie #2…or Spock could murder the captain and take over. Again, anything can happen without deleting Shatner-Kirk or that timeline.
Being a lifelong fan, there are a million little things I could mention about the film, from the shuttle Moore (a homage to "Battlestar Galactica" head honcho and onetime "Trek" writer Ronald D. Moore?) to the numerous franchise references (transwarp, Kolinahr, a Klingon prison planet, orbital skydiving, the U. S. S. Hood, etc.) to the completely bizarre field commission Pike bestows on a character…but I won't. Fans should have a field day picking it apart for sly in-jokes peppered throughout the running time for years to come.
"Star Trek" rates a very high 8 out of 10. Why not a 9? Because it falls just short of "The Dark Knight," which I felt was as close to perfection as I've seen in a long time. This vision of the "Trek" universe isn't perfect. It isn't supposed to be. It's bright and brooding, dirty in areas, herky-jerky in others and lively when it needs to be. We don't exactly explore strange new world or seek out new life and new civilizations. But "Star Trek" continues to show what humanity can do with an outstretched hand and an open mind. Isn't that more important than a bumpy headed alien?
Jason's film rating: 8/10
For this Blu-ray release of "Star Trek," Paramount use a dual-layer BD50 and an MPEG-4 audio-video codec to reproduce the film in 1080p high definition in its native aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The image quality obtained is not crystal clear nor super-detailed, but it does look pretty much as I remember from a motion-picture theater. Namely, the colors appear slightly subdued, just as they would in real life, never overly bright or overpowering in any cartoonish way but entirely natural. There is a touch of light film grain inherent to the original print that adds texture, never grit, and there is a depth to the picture that makes everything quite lifelike.
While close-ups are a tad soft, it does not appear to be through any fault of the transfer. Detail and delineation are excellent in mid to long shots, even in murkier scenes; black levels are solid; and facial tones are truthful. It's hard to imagine anyone complaining about this movie's picture quality (except a few videophiles on the fringe who always find cause to complain).
Just as the video renders the pictorial images realistically, so does the lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio create vivid aural impressions. The sound displays a wide dynamic range and punch; terrific surround activity in all channels; strong deep bass; and a fine sense of you-are-there factualness. There are times when the special aural effects and background music can somewhat drown out voices and dialogue, but such times are thankfully few.
Disc one of this "3-Disc Digital Copy Special Edition" contains the movie itself; a filmmaker commentary with co-producer and director J.J. Abrams, co-producer Damon Lindelof, executive producer Bryan Burk, co-executive producer and co-writer Alex Kurtzman, and co-writer Roberto Orci; a BD-Live feature, "NASA News"; a series of trailers and promos at start-up for other Paramount products; fifteen scene selections; bookmarks; English, French, and Spanish spoken languages; English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired.
Disc two is where you'll find the bulk of the extras, all of them in high def, which Paramount claims amounts to "30 behind-the-scenes featurettes." I'll take their word for it; I didn't count. Nor, I confess, did I watch all of them in their entirety. As it was, my fingers were practically bloody from clicking the remote so often. It makes me wonder when I see all these little segments on any disc why a studio doesn't just make one or two longer, more-comprehensive documentaries. But I guess it looks better in the promotional materials to say your disc has a ton of different bonuses. So, here's a quick run-down on what you'll find.
In order, they are a featurette: "To Boldly Go," with the branching pods "The Shatner Conundrum," "Red Shirt Guy," "The Green Girl," and "Trekker Alert!"; the featurette: "Casting"; another featurette, "A New Vision," with the branching pod "Savage Pressure"; yet another featurette, "Starships," with the branching pods "Warp Explained," "Paint Job," "Bridge Construction Accelerated," "The Captain's Chair," "Button Acting 101," "Shuttle Shuffle," and "Narada Construction Accelerated"; the featurette "Aliens," with the branching pods "The Alien Paradox," "Big-Eyed Girl," "Big Bro Quinto," "Klingons," and "Drakoulias Anatomy 101"; the featurette "Planets," with the branching pods "Extra Business" and "Confidentiality"; the featurette "Props and Costumes," with the branching pod "Klingon Wardrobe"; the featurette "Ben Burtt and the Sounds of Star Trek"; the featurette "Score"; and the featurette "Gene Roddenberry's Vision." I think the titles are pretty self-explanatory.
After all these featurettes with their optional branching pods we get nine deleted scenes with optional commentary; a "Starfleet Vessel Simulator," which allows you to explore either the Enterprise or the Romulan mining vessel Narada inside and out; a very cute gag reel; and, finally, a teaser trailer and three theatrical trailers.
Disc three contains a digital copy of the movie for Mac and PC; plus (according to the keep case) a STAR TREK D-A-C free trial game for XBOX 360 and Weblinks to the STAR TREK D-A-C free trial game for PC and Playstation Network.
A standard-sized Blu-ray keep case with an inner sleeve houses the three discs, the keep case further enclosed in an embossed cardboard slipcover.
I suppose if you're a seriously dedicated "Star Trek" fan from way back, you'll resist any part of this new film, no matter how good it is. But if you think of the new movie as just that, something "new," something different, you should be able to overcome your prejudices and preconceptions and accept and embrace this latest installment in the "Star Trek" saga. It's one heck of a ride!
"Live long and prosper."